With the harvest season just weeks away, tensions are high in Burma's opium-producing Kachin state following a series of clashes between opium-growing peasants and a local citizen anti-drug movement. Pat Jasan, a patrol established two years ago by the Kachin Baptist Church, has been in repeated confrontations over the past weeks at Kachin's Waingmaw township. The most recent, on Feb. 25, resulted in at least 20 Pat Jasan followers wounded in gunfire and grenade blasts. The vigilantes were apparently set upon by a heavily-armed force while clearing poppy fields.
Burma's President Thein Sein signed a ceasefire Oct. 15 with eight armed rebel groups, in a bid to bring the country's multiple ethnic insurgencies to an end before the next month's general elections—the first since a nominally civilian government took over and pledged a democratic transition in 2011 after decades of dictatorship. The agreement seeks to incorporate rebel groups into the political process, ending a war that has persisted (with varying levels of intensity) since Burmese independence in 1948. But while the pact is optimistically dubbed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), seven armed groups involved in the peace talks did not sign the final deal. Among the seven non-signatories is the largest rebel army, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), with an estimated 25,000 fighters. Trying to put a good face on things, Thein Sein said, "history will judge the value of the NCA not by the number of signatories but how the terms of the NCA are effectively implemented." Also not signing on are the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Kokang armed factions along the Chinese border. One of the most significant groups signing on, the Karen National Union (KNU), actually entered a bilateral ceasefire with the government in 2012.
India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Sept. 3 announced a Rs 7 lakh (approx. $10,500) bounty on Naga insurgent leader SS Khaplang in connection with an attack on an army convoy in Manipur three months ago that killed 18 soldiers. The 75-year-old rebel heads the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), that has long waged an armed struggle for an independent Naga homeland uniting parts of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam states along with areas of Burma. In early August, India's central government signed a peace agreement with the rival NSCN-IM (Isak-Muivah, named for leaders Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah). But the Khaplang faction is not yet recognizing the accord, and the bounty appears to signal Delhi's impatience—or a strategy to keep the Naga struggle divided.
The Dalai Lama has appealed to Burma's Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to speak up for the country's persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority amid a worsening refugee crisis according to a May 28 report in The Australian. The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader said he is alarmed and saddened by the predicament of thousands still believed to be stranded at sea after weeks of being turned away by nations in the region. "It's not sufficient to say: 'How to help these people?'," he said from his office in the Indian Himalayan hill station of McLeod Ganj, where he has lived in exile since his escape from Chinese-occupied Tibet in 1959. "This is not sufficient. There's something wrong with humanity's way of thinking. Ultimately we are lacking concern for others' lives, others' wellbeing." He said there could be no justification for violence against the estimated 1.3 million Rohingya in Burma, who have been denied citizenship and subject to persecution by the state and Buddhist extremists. He appealed to his Burmese co-religionists to "remember the face of the Buddha" when dealing with the minority, sometimes referred to as the world's "least-wanted" population.
Burma's President Thein Sein on May 23 signed into law a bill requiring some mothers to space the births of their children three years apart. The Population Control Health Care bill, passed by parliament last month, allows authorities the power to implement "birth-spacing" in areas with high rates of population growth. Though the bill has no punitive measures, US deputy secretary of state Anthony Blinken and rights activists worry it will be used to repress women's rights as well as religious and ethnic minority rights. Speaking on the matter, Blinken stated: "We shared the concerns that these bills can exacerbate ethnic and religious divisions and undermine the country's efforts to promote tolerance and diversity." The government claims the bill and three others like it were aimed at bringing down maternal and infant mortality rates and protecting women and minorities, but activists argue that there are better ways to accomplish this goal.
After weeks of escalating tensions along the remote mountain border, a Burmese MiG-29 fighter jet carried out an air-strike on Chinese territory March 13, killing four people working in a sugar-cane field in Yunnan province. Chinese authorities stepped up security along the border and registered a diplomatic protest. Burma, after initially denying everything, issued a statement expressing "deep sorrow" over the deaths. But Beijing says there have been at least three similar incidents of bombs from Burmese government forces falling in Chinese territory in recent weeks, and warned of "decisive" measures if there were any more. This all concerns the fast-escalating war in Burma's northern Shan state, where the rebel army of the Kokang ethnicity has again taken up arms against the government. More than 50,000 people—mostly Kokang—have fled the fighting into Chinese territory since the war was re-ignited earlier this year, and Burma accuses local military commanders in China of allowing the rebels to establish a staging ground in the border zone. (BBC News, March 16; Al Jazeera, March 15; Reuters, IBT, March 14)
In another grim signal of a widening war in northern Burma's opium zones, last week saw an outbreak of intense fighting between government forces and ethnic rebels, prompting some 50,000 Kokang civilians to flee across the border to China. The clashes at the town of Laukkai (also rendered Laogai), Shan state, saw government air-strikes and helicopter strafing on villages controlled by the Kokang rebel group, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and two allied militias. Some 50 government troops have been killed in the fighting, and soliders have recovered the bodies of several rebels. A line of refugees 10 kilometers long has reportedly piled up at the Chinese border crossing of Nansan. (AP, Feb. 14; Democratic Voice of Burma, Feb. 12; The Irrawady, Feb. 11)
Last month's US-India nuclear deal obviously signaled a rise in Sino-Indian tensions, seen by Beijing (accurately) as part of an encirclement strategy. The deal called for inclusion of India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which drew immediate criticism from China. The NSG is comprised of 46 nuclear supplier states, including China, Russia and the US, that have agreed to coordinate export controls on civilian nuclear material to non-nuclear-weapon states. The group has up to now been made up of signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—which, as China was quck to note, does not include India (or Pakistan, or the "secret" nuclear nation Israel). More to the point, India is not a "non-nuclear-weapon state." (The Diplomat, Feb. 14; Arms Control Association)